Thursday, 26 September 2013

The White Princess

I have thoroughly enjoyed all of Philippa Gregory’s Cousin’s War series. Each one has told of the war between the Yorks and Lancasters from a different pivotal woman’s viewpoint – Jacquetta Rivers, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Neville and Margaret Beaufort. This latest book in the series sees the turn of Elizabeth Woodville’s first daughter Elizabeth of York, who becomes Queen of England when she is forced to marry Henry VII, son of Margaret Beaufort. As she will become mother to Henry VIII and grandmother to Mary I and Elizabeth I, she is one of the most important women in British history.

Elizabeth’s story begins at the point where The Red Queen novel and The White Queen BBC television series both ended, at the result of the Battle of Boswoth. Elizabeth’s uncle Richard III, who in Gregory’s series, she has been in love with and had a relationship, has been killed as a result of Henry Tudor’s invasion and quest to be king. She must now marry the man who was the cause of her Uncle’s death. Interestingly, if this version of the story is true, Elizabeth would have been Queen of England no matter who was the victor of the battle.

Elizabeth has to go through with her mother’s previous agreement with Margaret Beaufort that she will marry her son to strengthen his ties with England, as he has lived abroad in exile for most of his life. Margaret behaves worse than ever in the beginning of this book, treating Elizabeth as a breeding machine and making sure that she is pregnant with Henry’s heir before the marriage ceremony. As she lives such a pious and devout life, she uses ‘God’s will’ to her own advantage. Margaret also takes the best rooms and a higher position than the Queen with her own title of My Lady, the King’s Mother.

As Elizabeth lives a life of giving birth to the Tudor heirs, her mother Elizabeth Woodville is plotting with the remaining Yorks and when a ‘boy’ claiming to be her long-lost song Richard (the Prince she managed to get away to freedom before being locked away in the Tower of London), returns to England to make a claim on the throne, Elizabeth must choose between her duties as wife and Queen and her love of her mother and little brother.

Portraits of Elizabeth of York and Henry VII

The White Princess is full of threat and emergences of ‘the boy’ Prince Richard. It does get a little repetitive as each time Henry VII hears of the boy, he becomes frightened, leads an army out and returns when he disappears. There are not any huge events in the novel as in the previous ones in the series and although Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort feature heavily in the beginning of the novel, the second half lacks their big characters. This is not a criticism of Gregory, as she cannot change the main account of history, but it makes the book possibly the weakest in the series. Saying that, I was completely engrossed as ever and although I knew what would happen at the end, I could not put this book down.

It was refreshing to learn more about Lady Katherine Huntley who marries ‘Prince Richard’ and in this version of events, becomes the object of Henry VII’s affections. I had not heard of her in history before (I would love a Gregory book from her viewpoint!) and as usual when reading historical novels, I have been researching all of the main characters and family trees.  It was also fascinating to read of Henry VIII as a baby and young child. I had never thought of him as an innocent toddler before!

Reading the books in the Cousin’s War series has given me a huge interest in the York and Lancaster families and I am now reading historical accounts, other novels and watching films and documentaries on the subject. This is a fascinating and dangerous part of history, when families in power could not trust life-long friends and allies or even family members with their own husbands, wives, parents or siblings ‘turning coats’, making life-changing or life-ending decisions and betraying those closest to them. Thanks to Philippa Gregory for igniting my interest in this era of history!

There is lots of further information at
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1 comment:

  1. Hearing about people in the way that she writes always makes me want to read more history. Though that's not to say I'd read this myself but it does inspire to learn more.